Living with lifestyle differences in Germany

24 May

The program is over, all my friends have gone back to America or on to more traveling, and I’m left here in Freiburg with a lot of self-reflection time.  Towards the end of the semester, I was getting really down about being abroad. I wasn’t homesick, I just wanted to go home, if that makes any sense at all. I was tired of German food, German culture, German people. But for some reason, watching all of my friends leave reinvigorated my love for being abroad.  I miss my friends I made this semester and all of the experiences I had with them, but it’s kind of nice feeling, like I have the city to myself.  I’m really glad I stayed and I’ve fallen in love with Freiburg all over again.  So in my self-reflection time, I decided to post a blog for all future Boilermakers interested in Germany, or Freiburg in particular, about the differences in lifestyle.  Little lessons I learned along the way…

1.  To this day I often forget this fact, but if you are going to the grocery store, you need your own bags.  They don’t give out plastic bags, you’re expected to have your own way of getting your stuff home, like reuse other bags or canvas bags.  Some stores have bags, but you have to pay extra for them.

2.  In connection to this, Germans go to the grocery store more often.  Whereas in America, I would run to Walmart every couple of weeks and stock up on food, Germans go every couple of days or even every day.  This means their packaging is a lot smaller, they buy a lot more fresh food, and they ultimately buy less, which is important because their fridges are smaller and you have to carry home what you buy. Also about freshness, convenience is not priority here like it is in America, so no Toaster Strudels, no pancake mix, and those bagged frozen meals that I came to love, not going to find them here.

3.  You can forget about IHOP or Denny’s obsessions, breakfast is usually a simple baked good and coffee.  That was a rough one to adjust to. Other important notes about fast food in Germany: Döner is the German fast food.  Its like a wrap with lamb meat and veggies. Its a huge deal here. Also, Subway is now Mr. Sub, still not sure why, and McChickens at McDonalds are 3.19€ and not $1–criminal.

4. They don’t have air conditioning in a lot of buildings, which I’m starting to understand the misery of now that its getting into the 80’s here.  But their windows are huge here for this reason, they rely on a fresh breeze.

5.  Don’t wear sweat pants unless you’re going to the gym; daily tennis shoes are more like nice Pumas than Nike running shoes; dogs are rarely on leashes in Freiburg; and don’t even think about coming to Germany if you haven’t seen The Simpsons or The Big Lebowski.

6.  One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to is the “toilet” thing.  In America, we would rarely/never ask “Where is the toilet?”.  It seems crude. Yet if you ask for the “bathroom” in most European cities, they’ll wonder why you want to take a shower.

7.  Everyone knows the basics of Germany history, theres no tip-toeing around the subject. But I’ve gradually developed the habit of saying “Nazi” or “Hitler” in a very hushed tone.  Its not that Germans are trying to forget it, they’ve spent decades feeling guilty about the events of the past.  This is also why you will never see a German waving or flying a German flag.  They still have feelings that flying the flag is too nationalistic and connected to the Nazi era.

8.  You know that perception of the US being the world power and “We are the world leaders” kind of thing? Thats kind of how Germany is in the European Union.  They are basically the leaders, they have the strongest economy, but yet they couldn’t really care less.  Germans have no feeling of identity with the EU and would say they were German far before they would ever say they are European. And being members of the EU, this means most Europeans are much more knowledgable about international news whereas most Americans know whats going on only in America.

9.  If you are coming to Germany, you’ll hear a lot that Germans are “social drinkers”.  When American students are drinking, it is often with the intention of getting drunk.  They rarely crack open a beer on a Tuesday after class just because.  Its usually weekend bingers, beer pong, and jungle juice.  This isn’t to say Germans don’t get drunk, they definitely do.  But it definitely isn’t the same as with Americans.  Its just sitting around, drinking beers with friends.  Also, you can drink on the streets in Germany, and the drinking age is much younger.  Its a little freaky the first time you see a a 16 year old on the street chugging down a bottle of Malibu (because German 16 year olds do act like American 21 year olds).

10. Speaking of this, if you come to Germany to study abroad, any Germans you hang out with and meet will almost certainly be much older. They start taking courses at the university much later in Germany, thus our equivalence in college level has a discrepancy in the age range.  Most of the Germans I know and hang out with are 25 and older.  And after a while, the 20-21 year old Germans seem veerrryyyy young and immature.

11.  “Entschuldigung” or “Excuse me” is rarely used when passing by someone; soft drinks are much smaller, much more expensive, and free refills are unheard of; Sunday is a day to enjoy with friends and family doing something outside and basically the entire city of Freiburg shuts down; Germans are far less attached to their cell phones than Americans; if you jaywalk you’re consider a bad influence on children–its a definite no no; you won’t find ice in most drinks; and if you want tap water be prepared for some confusion.

12.  Trash sorting is the weirdest thing to become adjusted to. They have separate bags and garbage bins for plastics, papers, glass(green, brown, AND clear), and regular waste.  I still have to ask my roommate what goes where.

13.  The stereotype that Americans are loud is 100% true.  Even in our everyday conversations, we are much louder when we speak than the Germans.

14.  Living in an apartment in Germany, you typically have a cleaning plan that you share with your roommates and it rotates weekly.  And whereas in America, if you are always closing your door to your bedroom, you are going to be considered quiet or antisocial. But Germans always close their doors when in their rooms and think we are weird (and sometimes bothersome) if we leave our doors open.

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One Response to “Living with lifestyle differences in Germany”

  1. Mom May 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    You have had an amazing experience over there and have learned so much. Enjoy your internship and summer abroad.
    I am very proud of you!!!!!

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